FIght, FLight or FRight

I learned this in 6th grade science class. When an animal in the wild is face to face with a predator about to eat him, one of two instincts will take over – fight or flight.  The animal will stand and fight, or take flight and escape (by running, flying, swimming, whatever.) Even curling up into an armored shell counts as taking evasive action. 

There is a third option that we highly evolved humans have developed… let’s call it fright.  Fright means standing there looking at the predator and doing nothing. Basically letting it eat you because you could not make a decision or take action.  Though we humans are (usually) not faced by literal predators trying to eat us, we are faced with big problems, predicaments and aggressive people who will do us harm if we just stand there and stare at them.

In a previous post “Chase or be chased,” I was describing a mind game I play to keep me motivated during long races.  I not only chase a goal that is front of me, I also set up a scenario where I am being chased from behind.  It’s the tension between these two that keeps me moving, combining negative and positive reinforcement at the same time.

Reader Mike T. commented on the importance of enjoying this spot in the middle, living in the present moment and not dwelling too much on the past and future. I totally agree.  It’s hard to be happy if you’re always looking at the horizon or the rearview mirror. It’s even harder to be happy if you let fear catch up and swallow you.

One of the ways I defeat fear is to acknowledge and accept it, then very rationally decide what to do about it.  For example…you may feel the fear that your job will be downsized in the near future. You can choose to fight – do everything you can to prove your worth to your current employer.  Or you can take flight – go look for another company or start your own (always a viable option.)  The worst thing to do is allow yourself to be frozen with fright, waiting for the ax to fall. This is just plain wasted time.

I feel fear.  Everyone feels fear. Use it to propel, not paralyze you.

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3 Comments on “FIght, FLight or FRight”

  1. Tom Jacobs Says:

    Thanks for another great post. I’ve been doing research into Anxiety and the effects that fear and worry have on decision making. There comes a point when fear will actually cause the prefrontal cortex to disengage from rationality and start justifying all of the fears into a spiral and everything starts to feed the justification. That turns into anger (fight), avoidance (flight), or panic (Fright). Just some food for thought. Thanks again. 🙂

    • Mike T Says:

      So interesting! I have been studying a lot on Anxiety/Fear and psychology lately as well which is why I urged David to go deeper. I’m planning on starting to blog again and will touch on this topic a bit. A 2 year hiatus was probably enough!

      We need to understand that fear & anxiety are negative ENERGY and energy doesn’t disappear or go away. So, if an individual does not take action to change the energy into positive energy, often people reach paralysis as David mentions. One psychologist (probably multiple) say anxiety is rooted in lack of self esteem and the only way to combat it is to build confidence. You build confidence through courage. Courage is defined as the Decision to do the right thing regardless of how you’re feeling. Even if you take action and fail, you still are being courageous and building confidence. To keep this simple, I won’t touch on anger (which can be positive and is of course different from anxiety), degrees of fear, etc. Simply acknowledging that we are afraid and choosing to do something anyway.

      I’ve been adapting this (and other things) into my life the past 3 months and I have to tell you the impact has been profound and life changing!

  2. Mike T Says:

    Ha! I just realized I asked David to be practical in his examples since not everyone runs or encounters a bear in every day life, then I forgot to do so myself.

    So, let’s do some practical examples:
    *You think you might get laid off or lose your job
    *Talk with your boss and bosses’ boss. I’d recommend not focusing on your fear and telling them that (although any action is better than no action) you’d like some honest feedback on your performance and what you can be doing better. Or better think of ideas yourself where you can be doing better or where you can add more value and share these with your boss and key stakeholders. Do they support and value your plan or suggest something else?
    *Or find a way to add value and pursue it immediately in your free time without discussion if you think they’ll be open to that and it won’t detract from your other duties.
    *Update your resume, notify your friends & network that you’re seeing what’s out there even though you might be happy where you’re at.
    *Reach out to mentors or cultivate new mentors/contacts and have advice convos to build your confidence, find ways to improve, or insights into looking for jobs.
    *You’re having difficulty in your relationship and you think it might end
    *Talk to your partner
    *Talk to a therapist
    *Suggest you and your partner do to a counselor
    *Choose to end it yourself

    There are tons of options to both of these and other fear situations. There’s often little wrong answers. By taking action you take control, avoid paralysis, and build your confidence.

    Have an amazing week!


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